Using Innovation In Education

Larry Price
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Wednesday - January 31, 2007
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The governor’s State of the State address should have generated a lot of excitement in the education industry, but it didn’t. But then I would have been surprised if it did.

There is a dominate theory in economics that influences the public’s perceptions of just about everything going on inside and outside of education.

The governor was talking about her ideas on innovation in education. Of course, there was a limited time for discussion of the topic; however, it’s worth trying to understand. All of these ideas cost money, or capital, and they must compete in capital markets. It’s a lot like athletic teams competing for a title or award.

Whether you are inside or outside the education system, just about everything that happens is governed by supply and demand. On the demand side are parents, students and others in the community. On the supply side sit providers of education products and services, and entrepreneurs who are willing and able to contribute their time and expertise toward creating this supply.

The demand team’s choices have historically been limited, and their demands filtered through public school administrators and school boards. The supply team’s choices are limited because they include ideas like the need for more charter schools. The record shows clearly that anytime discussion about privatization of public education surfaces it becomes politically charged, even though free market mechanisms are better than the public services.

This disagreement is honest and necessary between those who believe education is an individual or public good, and strictly divides the appropriate role of government. The only thing that both “teams” agree on is there is a moral and philosophical responsibility to provide a high-quality education for all.

No matter how long you have believed in the government’s role as the primary provider of public goods, you have to face the reality that data shows traditional school districts, particularly in low-income communities, are not delivering the level of education demanded by the public. In Hawaii, this debate has created a lot of unnecessary political volatility which has resulted in many poor decisions.

Believe it or not, the governor’s suggestion about depending on innovation to improve public education, from a philosophical point of view, is right on the mark. It’s just what the doctor ordered.

Surprisingly, there’s not a word of support from legislators. They were more concerned with budget expenditures to ensure a “fair wage increase” for public employees. This is a good example of the demand team’s needs being filtered through the public school administrators and school boards.

There are programs currently practicing the kind of innovation the governor highlighted in her speech. A good example is Waialua High School. For the past seven years it has been using an innovative program to teach the students about engineering and the importance of math and science. It is taught by volunteers and runs parallel to the school district. The BOE and district superintendents are aware of the program, but have no direct control over its implementation. It is privately funded and wonderfully successful, if anyone would care to investigate. Seven years ago the record shows not one graduating senior from Waialua applied to the UHManoa School of Engineering.

This year there are 20!

The youngsters like innovation - it’s fun. Innovation is working to shape the future right now.

There are four or five schools that have embraced the parallel tracking system to teach analytical and problem-solving skills developed through science, technology, engineering and math education.

It may be time to try to enhance innovation in our public school system instead of disregarding anything that’s not suggested by the BOE or DOE.

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